Posts Tagged ‘Syriza’

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It’s mostly flown under the radar, at least in the United States. But, in Portugal, the ruling austerity coalition, Portugal Ahead, lost its parliamentary majority in yesterday’s election.

Meanwhile, the Left Bloc, the sister party of Greece’s anti-austerity Syriza, looks to be on course for its best-ever result of 10.2 percent of the vote and 19 seats, up from its previous score of eight.

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The current situation in Greece appears hopeless. After two European bailouts and five years of Draconian austerity measures, which have left much of Greece in tatters, the Syriza-led government has been forced to accept a third bailout and the imposition of new austerity measures, which will only continue the current depression and leave the country with no real prospects of repaying the accumulation of new debts.

If that’s not a hopeless situation, I don’t know what is.

But Slavoj Žižek [ht: db] invokes Giorgio Agamben to the effect that “thought is the courage of hopelessness.”

The true courage is not to imagine an alternative, but to accept the consequences of the fact that there is no clearly discernible alternative: the dream of an alternative is a sign of theoretical cowardice; it functions as a fetish that prevents us thinking through to the end the deadlock of our predicament. In short, the true courage is to admit that the light at the end of the tunnel is most likely the headlights of another train approaching us from the opposite direction. There is no better example of the need for such courage than Greece today.

I think Žižek is right, although Marx may have put it even better: “You will hardly suggest that my opinion of the present is too exalted and if I do not despair about it, this is only because its desperate position fills me with hope.”

Marx (in a May 1843 letter) was responding to Arnold Ruge, who had expressed a resigned certainty that there could be no popular revolution in Germany. Marx then proceeds to demonstrate how we need to “start all over again”—by studying the philistine “lords of the world” (“lords of the world only in the sense that they fill it with their presence, as worms fill a corpse”), who wallow in “their passive and thoughtless existence.” Marx concludes with the hope that the “enemies of philistinism, i.e., all thinking and suffering people” will eventually arrive at a critical understanding of the old order, which will serve to create a fundamental rupture within existing society and usher in a new one.

The same task has to be taken up today in Greece and, even more so, Europe. Each day we learn more (e.g., thanks to Neil Irwin and others) about how Germany prevailed in the negotiations over Greece in the most recent bailout—and how the rest of Europe (from Lisbon to Latvia) accepted and reinforced the terms of the deal.

The temerity of the Greek government was to challenge the idea that “business as usual”—strict adherence to the existing rules and procedures, from bankers’ dress codes and polite public pronouncements to suggestions (by, among others, Slovenian Finance Minister Dusan Mramor and Wolfgang Schäuble) that the only way the mounting debt could be written down was for Greece to “temporarily” leave the euro zone—would solve the existing problems in Greece and the other austerity-ravaged countries in Europe.

In the end, of course, the Greeks lost. Thus, they have been forced to cobble together parliamentary votes that roll back some of the anti-austerity measures adopted by Syriza since assuming power in January, in addition to levying higher taxes and renewing the program to privatize state assets—just to fend off a liquidity crisis in the banking sector and then to enter into a new round of negotiations over the exact terms of the bailout.

The current situation does, indeed, appear hopeless.

However, in challenging the terms of the bailout—first, in supporting the “no” vote in the 5 July referendum and, then, in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s statements that his government would not implement reform measures beyond those agreed with lenders at the euro zone summit this month—the Greek government has come to represent all the “thinking and suffering people” of Europe and to expose the “passive and thoughtless existence” that characterizes the “lords of the world” who currently reign on that continent.

It is one moment in a long process that is showing the world how the current system cannot solve the problems it has created.

That, perhaps, should fill us with hope.

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Posted: 13 April 2015 in Uncategorized
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Greece

According to the data in the chart by Max Roser, Brian Nolan, and Stefan Thewissen, every decile of the Greek population lost ground after the global financial crash and austerity measures were imposed in that country.

As Matt O’Brien explains,

The simple story, as you can see, is that there was a big jump for everybody after the junta was pushed out in 1974, a big stagnation from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, an even bigger jump, especially for the rich, after that, and then a big crash that’s erased 30 years of gains—or more. Greece’s rich have done a little better than the rest, with their real disposable incomes “only” falling to 1985 levels. But its poor have fallen even further, all the way back to where they were in 1980.

That’s why it’s no exaggeration to say that Greece really does have a humanitarian crisis on its hands. The left-wing Syriza government has made this a priority—they want food stamps for the hungry, healthcare for the sick, and electricity for people who can’t afford to keep on the lights—but even with a limited victory in its first round of negotiations with Europe, it’s not clear where the money’s going to come from. Or if it will even have what it needs to pay back its creditors.

But, unless a solution is found—and soon—both Greece and, with it, the project that is Europe will collapse.

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